That's because only the next version will fully support Mac OS X, Apple's new operating system scheduled to ship early next year.
Without a Mac OS X version of Office, which is the major productivity suite for the Mac, Apple could face problems moving customers to its new operating system, analysts say. In addition, they warn, the migration to a new operating system is a critical time for any software company.
"It's not good news that the major face-lift of the operating system in the Mac world is not accompanied by a substantial suite of software applications to go with it that's native to the new environment. It's bad timing for Apple," said Roger Kay, an analyst at market researcher IDC.
Irving Kwong, Microsoft's product manager for its Mac business unit, made it clear the company is committed to delivering a Mac OS X version of Office. But he also could not speculate as to when Microsoft will deliver the productivity suite.
"We honestly don't know when," he said.
Part of the problem lies in what he called "Carbonizing" Mac Office's 30 million lines of code, 60 percent of which is shared among the Office applications such as Word and Excel. Carbon is Apple's term for programs that have been modified to take advantage of Mac OS X's advanced features and Aqua graphical user interface.
Kwong made one thing clear. "We won't have a Carbonized version of Office when OS X ships," he said.
Apple has been trying to deal with problems presented by moving to Mac OS X, which is a more memory-efficient and stable operating system than Mac OS 9.04.
Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple released the first public beta of Mac OS X in September. The company originally had promised to ship Mac OS X this summer, but it later backpedaled and insisted the beta was what it had promised. The company is now broadly talking about delivery sometime next year.
"It's characteristic of the debacle this Mac OS X has been in," Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal said. "It appears that nothing has been on schedule with Mac OS X."
"OS X has to have 2001," Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq said. But "OS X's schedule from Microsoft's perspective is a moving target, so I don't think this can be laid at Microsoft's feet."
LeTocq added that Mac Office 2001 runs on the OS X beta but the performance is disappointing.
Although Microsoft, too, is notorious for shipping operating systems late, Apple's situation is more dire because it does not develop the major productivity applications for its Mac OS. Apple's delays don't just affect Office, but potentially graphics programs from Adobe, Quark and other software developers important to Apple.
LeTocq said having a version of Mac Office that runs well under OS X is so important that he could envision Apple agreeing to delay the operating system's release so Microsoft can catch up.
"But then again, it's going to depend a lot on good faith on both sides, if it were," he said. "I get the impression Microsoft is a little frustrated with the scheduling issue on the Apple side."
Microsoft made its commitment to Mac OS X crystal clear Wednesday in an important endorsement for Apple. Microsoft officially announced Office 2001 at CompUSA in San Francisco, even though Microsoft has been selling the productivity suite since late September.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker also expanded a Mac branding and advertising campaign launched at the Macworld Trade Expo in July.
As part of the re-branding, Microsoft introduced new packaging, the "mac:" brand identity, and an ad campaign focusing more on people than on the product.
On Wednesday, Microsoft also expanded the nearly four-month ad campaign to include national and major metropolitan areas, such as Houston, with large Mac user communities.
LeTocq praised the new branding and approach to promoting Office for the Mac.
"The new ads look a lot like something Apple might do, which is Microsoft's way of telling the Apple corps it is more Mac friendly," he said.